Session type:


Presented by:

Willem van den Ende


Marc Evers


Session time:

29 Sep 11:15 12:45

Session duration:

90 minutes

About the session

Did you know ants leave traces in their environment to provide information and give directions to other ants? This is called ‘stigmergy’.

Join Willem and Marc to explore how the traces ants leave apply to their practice of software development, and how we leave traces of practice in our own workplaces.

They’ll explore ways you and others create and use stigmergy in your work already, and how to tell the difference between good and bad stigmergy.

Stigmergy sees ‘agents’ coordinate actions indirectly and decentralised through traces left in the environment. It comes from biology, referring to how e.g. ants leave traces in their environment to sources of food. The trace left by an individual action stimulates the performance of a next action by the same or different agent.

Do you hate it when you try to do something, but have no idea where to start? Have you ever seen examples of good work that spread, and are easy to build on for others? There is ‘good’ stigmergy and ‘bad’ stigmergy.

‘Good stigmergy’ encourages others to perform more good actions. Writing at the top of an onboarding documentation wiki encourages newcomers to update the onboarding documentation as they work through it. A ‘paved road’ for new microservices allows teams to quickly start and deliver new services, Miro boards that multiply and help others get up to speed fast.

We have also seen cases of ‘bad stigmergy’,  like code that is hard to understand but works gets copied - leading to more hard to understand code. Someone starts wearing headphones in a noisy office, then someone else follows, and so on, setting up an additional barrier for communication.


Participant takeaways:


  • Discover ways in which you and others create and use stigmergy in your work.
  • What does ‘good’ stigmergy look like?
  • What is a ‘bad’ stigmergy for you?
  • What are ‘gray areas’?
  • Find new vocabulary to describe which things are ‘in effect’ at your place of work.


Problem solving, innovation, people, systems thinking.

Session capacity: 30

About the speaker(s)